JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's first legal auction of rhino horns opened for bids on Wednesday and 264 horns went on sale after the owner of the world's biggest private rhino herd won a court case against the government.
The rhinos were tranquilized before their horns were harvested making the operation painless. It takes up to two years for the horns to grow back, said Pelham Jones, chairman of the Private Rhino Owners Association.
A court handed down the order on Sunday to allow the online auction to go ahead after the government delayed handing over the permit to rhino owner John Hume. Bidding is scheduled to close at 1300 GMT on Friday.
South Africa is home to more than 80 percent of the world's rhinos, whose population has been devastated by poaching for buyers in Vietnam and China where it is coveted as an ingredient in traditional medicine.
Hume, who owns 1,500 rhinos on his sprawling farm southeast of Johannesburg, has built up a stockpile of rhino horn as he regularly cuts them off his herd to protect against poachers.
Global trade in rhino horn is banned under a United Nations convention. Any horn acquired legally in South Africa could not be exported but conservationists have expressed concerns that domestic buyers could illicitly supply Asian markets.
Hume has said he needs to sell horn to afford spiraling security costs which include armed patrols, helicopters and electric fencing.
(Reporting by Zandi Shabalala; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)